Title: Good Things Come In Pairs
Fandom(s): The Simpsons
Summary: Sherri and Terri's bond is shaken as they find their way through their teenage years.
Author's Notes: This was a fic bunny that came to me during Yuletide and I've finally put it all together. Thanks to wasabi_girl1 on LJ for the beta.
Terri is inseparable from her twin sister. Unsurprisingly so. It's just so easy when they're so much alike. There's a strange power there, when people aren't quite sure of your identity because there's a doppelganger standing right next to you, with the same piercing voice and the same bold gleam in her eyes. It keeps them safe, keeps them apart. When they're at home, talking about school or boys or that ugly dress Janey was wearing, they're both crammed on one of their beds, shoulder to shoulder and leg to leg, a perfect symmetry that makes them different, unique. Terri says so out loud.
"Makes us kinda creepy too." Sherri adds, laughing into her sister's hair.
Terri grins and throws her arm around her. "That's the best part."
One day, Sherri and Terri walk through the school hallways and hear rumbles of discontent; apparently Lisa has convinced Principal Skinner to remove all the Choco Sugar vending machines from the classrooms, on account of some stupid illegal technicality or something. Terri doesn't really pay attention to the details, all she knows is that Sherri loves Choco Sugar's Bite-Sized Candy-Coated Candy even more that she does. Her sister is hopping mad by the time they track Lisa down.
"What's your problem, Lisa?" Sherri complains, hands on hips and Terri instinctively follows suit. "What kind of kid doesn't like candy?"
"Guys, Choco Sugar is exploiting children as cheap labour in third world countries! We can't support them." Lisa replies earnestly and Terri is so sick of her earnestness.
"Well, at least they'll get to enjoy Choco Sugar's Chewy Caramel Morsels. Thanks for nothing, loser." Terri turns her nose up disdainfully and then, as if on cue, she and Sherri turn heel and storm off.
When they get home that day, they tell their mom about the Choco Sugar fiasco and insist on getting some at the Kwik-E-Mart. Their mom smiles a little and tells Sherri to go get her purse from the living room.
Terri is daydreaming about which kind of Choco Sugar candy she'll buy when she suddenly realizes her mother is kneeling before her.
"Terri, sweetheart, you don't have to do everything she does."
Terri frowns. "What?"
Her mother sighs and pats her on the head. "I'm your mother and I know you like chips more than candy, you always have. Just because Sherri says something, doesn't mean you have to follow her."
"I like candy." Terri retorts weakly. It's really true, she does like candy.
Just not as much as Crunchems Xtreme Pizza Bites. But Sherri doesn't need to know that.
But that's just the way it is: Sherri is older and Sherri is the leader. Fortunately, Terri doesn't mind. Not one single bit.
When they get to middle school, every guy (even the ones they've known since they were in kindergarten) turn into absolute pigs. And it's all because they're twins. As if that makes it okay to yell gross comments about how hot it would be to score with both of them at the same time.
Like, ew. It's totally disgusting.
Their third week into school, they're sitting on Sherri's bed and hashing out a plan of attack.
"You know how they say that stuff when we're together? Maybe we should stop hanging out all the time." Sherri twirls a glittery pen in her left hand as she talks, looking up at the ceiling.
Terri doesn't respond for a moment. When she speaks, she keeps her voice light. "Stop hanging out?"
"Uh huh. I mean, I'll see you at home and at soccer practice, it's not a big deal. We're not in the same homeroom, so we just have to do different things at lunch and between classes."
"But... we have the same friends!" Terri points out. "What are we supposed to do about that?"
Sherri shrugs. "It's okay, you can keep hanging out with them. I kinda want to meet new people. You know, branch out and try something different?"
Time slows down for a second as Terri looks at her twin. It's like Sherri is suddenly someone else, some alternate reality Sherri that Terri does not recognize. Terri draws in a slow breath as Sherri continues to twirl the pen and the feeling passes eventually.
Hanging out separately kinda works. A little. They still get harassed but it's a garden variety type of harassment; neither of them are ugly and they walk the halls with that confidence that everyone knows them for, so it's no wonder some dumb neanderthals want to take them down a notch. Stupid boys.
It just doesn't make sense that Sherri won't weather the storm with her, together, united like they always are.
By the time they're halfway through middle school, Sherri has a new group of friends, the strangest bunch of kids ever as far as Terri is concerned. The guys listen to old punk music and the girls wear purple lipstick. Terri tries to understand why her sister chooses them but can't quite do it. She runs into Lisa at the park one day and they get to talking about Sherri. The younger girl tries to explain what's happening by blabbering on about co-dependency and gene-environment interactions and Terri feels like she's going to pass out. She's smart, but she's not Lisa smart.
Even at home things are beginning to shift between them, in tiny ways that paper-cut Terri's sense of stability. Sherri stops listening to Mariah Carey and hangs a poster of some weird guy called Sid Vicious on her side of their room. Then she quits soccer and takes up singing lessons instead. In response (or is it retaliation?) Terri quits soccer and starts doing karate. It takes her mind off of things, like her annoying math teacher or how Bart gets stupider but more charming with every passing year. But mostly, it takes her mind off the fact that Sherri is not standing next to her, that Sherri is not the one she's sparring with. She remembers what her mother told her long ago, about following Sherri, about being true to herself.
She never had a problem trailing behind Sherri, but now Terri is afraid that her sister is going somewhere she isn't willing to follow.
One week before their last day of middle school, Terri stays late after class to tutor Milhouse. When she gets home, her mom is sitting at the dining room table with stained latex gloves on. Terri is puzzled by the scene in front of her and drops her knapsack slowly.
"Hi, sweetheart." Her mom gives an encouraging smile that worries Terri. "Sherri's upstairs. She has a surprise for you."
Terri walks into their room and sees Sherri standing with her back to her. She's examining herself in their dresser mirror, the one with the vibrant lavender frame. Lavender to match their hair, lavender like their sheets and their slippers and the curtains draped over their window.
Sherri's hair is a dark chestnut brown.
Terri stares, silent. There's no need to speak; they're twins. Words aren't required. Sherri turns and when their eyes meet, there's nothing left to say.
Things change after Sherri dyes her hair, so quickly that Terri sometimes get dizzy with how fast the world is racing around her when all she wants to do is shake someone and demand answers. She actually does shake Sherri and demand answers during their first week of high school. A teacher pops out of her classroom and separates them, then sends them both to the principal's office. Terri fumes while Sherri acts indifferent and the chasm between them widens even more as they sit in hard plastic chairs.
Their dad yells at them for the first time in a long time that night, disappointed that his princesses are getting into trouble so soon in the school year.
"She started it!" Sherri complains, pointing at Terri accusingly, like they're four years old and fighting over a lollipop instead of the glaring fact that Sherri is hurtling headfirst into a complete reconstruction of her identity.
"Only because you're acting crazy." Terri counters, balling her hands into fists so that she doesn't attempt to shake sense into her again. "You've got problems, Sherr. You're turning into a huge loser!"
There's a devious look in Sherri's eyes. "Well, if I end up a loser, maybe Bart will notice me instead of you and we'll be two losers together. Won't that be nice, Terr?"
Terri is so mortified at Sherri spilling her biggest secret in front of their parents that she doesn't even register their mom getting up and putting a firm hand on Sherri's shoulder.
"Young lady, that's enough. We are having a private talk right now, outside." She firmly guides an impassive Sherri towards the back door. Terri is still rooted to her spot in the living room when the sliding door clicks shut.
"Wait... Bart? As in the Simpson boy? What could you possibly see in that no-good, delinquent son of a bumbling incompetent?" Her dad suddenly says with a frown.
Terri wails and runs sobbing to her room.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Bart asks Terri out a month later.
She's having a good day; aced her geography test, Allison totally gushed over her cute new jeans, and they served her favourite today at lunch: tater tots. She's humming that new Spice Girls song as she walks home in the crisp fall weather when she hears a familiar someone calling her name from behind her.
Her heartbeat speeds up. The night she fought with Sherri rears up in her mind again but she pushes it away.
Even though they don't have much in common anymore (Bart's all about wood-working and auto-mechanic classes while she's into English and history) the conversation seems to go fine. They talk about teachers and the latest McBain movie before lapsing into a comfortable silence.
"Where's Milhouse?" Terri asks, genuinely curious.
"At home. Got the flu or something. Wanna go out with me?"
"Oh. What?" Terri halts in her tracks.
"I just..." Bart rubs the back of his head awkwardly. "I just wanted to ask you out before some tall guy with big white teeth did, you know?"
"Isn't Sherri more your type? You know, with the whole apathetic rebel thing? No, wait, that doesn't make sense, it's an oxymoron. You can't be apathetic and a rebel. Unless you were trying to beat the system through non-action, but then-"
"Are you babbling? You're so nervous you're babbling?" Bart interrupts, trying not to look too pleased.
"Of course not!" Terri forces herself to calm down, to fill herself up with confidence. She tosses her lavender hair and tries to look haughty but she gets the feeling that she's grinning too widely at Bart to pull it off. He grins back at her and suddenly they're laughing at each other and he's holding her hand and Terri wishes it wasn't such a short walk from the school to her house.
When they get to her driveway, she stops and stares up at the window to her bedroom. Their bedroom. Sherri might be home, she might not be, Terri doesn't ever really know anymore.
"Uh, you wanna hang out?" Bart asks hesitantly.
"Can't. I have math homework and then soccer practice."
"But I'm not doing anything tomorrow." She replies cheerfully, tugging his hand so that they're practically nose to nose. "We can hang out then."
"Sweet! I mean..." Bart rearranges his boyish, enthusiastic expression into something more dispassionate. "... yeah, whatever."
Terri giggles at his attempt to be a tough guy and kisses him on the cheek, running to the door without even checking to see his reaction. She bursts through the front door and runs up the stairs, heading straight for her room so that she can flop on her bed face first, squealing madly into her pillow.
Did that really just happen? Is she really Bart's girlfriend now? She feels tingly all over and her heart is racing at an insane pace. For all his reckless stupidity, Terri has always liked Bart. Even though she knows better, even though she knows he's mostly a disaster. She's liked him for so long, secretly hoping and wishing he would feel the same way about her, that everything suddenly seems unreal.
What will her parents say about this? What will Sherri say? In fact, where is Sherri? She should have came home before I did. Terri realizes. She looks to her left and sees that Sherri's bag is on her bed.
There's a shuffling sound behind her and Terri lifts her head to see that Sherri is standing in the doorway with an unreadable expression on her face. Well, unreadable to anyone who's not her twin. Terri knows instantly that Sherri saw everything.
"I could see you from the bathroom window." Sherri says, answering the unasked question that flits across Terri's mind. "He actually asked you out?" There's disbelief in her sister's voice.
"Yeah, he did." Terri replies proudly, sitting up and readying herself for Sherri's barbs. Formerly apathetic, Sherri has become more volatile as of late. They both have, in all honesty. But Terri can't help it if Sherri knows how to push all of her buttons.
"Figures. You were always too chicken to make the first move." Sherri says smugly, standing at the foot of Terri's bed. "But whatever. He must be even stupider than I thought if he wants to date a total airhead."
"Shut up, I'm not an airhead!" Terri crosses her arms angrily. This has become a recent bone of contention between the two of them. Sherri has this whole disdain thing going on as she calls Terri fake and superficial. It usually ends with Terri storming off in a huff, taking a walk to clear her mind of thing.
"I am not an airhead." Terri repeats, remembering her schoolwork. "Do airheads ace geography tests?"
"Sometimes." Sherri counters, that mean look in her eyes again as she leans in towards Terri. "Nah, he's probably going out with you because you act like a big shallow slut who'll give it up to the first guy who comes along."
"You stupid fucking bitch!" Terri screeches, tackling Sherri without thought. She grabs a hold of Sherri's stupid fucking brown hair and yanks. Sherri swears at the pain, her chipped nails digging into Terri's arm as she twists it as hard as she can. They fight like boys, kicking and punching completely without rhyme or reason. Even with her karate lessons, Terri cannot overpower Sherri. They're evenly matched, straining to outdo the other until they're left in a tangled stalemate, out of breath and sore as hell.
By the time their mom comes home from work, Terri is nowhere to be found, having run to the Simpson house for refuge. Sherri, on the other hand, is busy moving her bed and possessions into the guest room, claiming it as her own.
With Bart as her boyfriend, Terri doesn't spend much time at her house anymore. Avoiding Sherri becomes her primary goal in life. Even when Sherri's not there, doing whatever weird artsy thing she does in her spare time, it's not easy. Her own room, now containing nothing but her own bed and dresser, seems cavernous. Across the hallway is Sherri's room, with its plain white walls and posters on every available surface. Everything about that un-guest room reminds her of a Sherri that doesn't exist, a Sherri that would have never said such horrible thing about her. A Sherri that still loved lavender and sparkly thing and dresses and giggling about nothing.
Fortunately, staying away from home is easy enough when the alternative is Bart's house. Mrs. Simpson devotes an almost inhuman amount of time pampering Terri with food; pie and cookies and brownies made from scratch. Terri's own mom never has time to bake and cook like this, being that she works during the day, so Mrs. Simpson's generosity is pretty overwhelming. After a couple months of eating snacks and staying over for dinner, Terri knows that she has to repay Bart's mom somehow and offers to start baby-sitting Maggie for free. Bart thinks she's crazy for offering; Maggie's amazingly clever for a five year old but has a rowdy side as well.
"Hell, if it weren't for me and Lisa taking care of her, she'd be scaring off baby-sitters like a pro." He says, trying to dissuade her as they sit in front of the Springfield Sign and look down at the city lights. It's the middle of winter and everything seems very quiet and very far away from their vantage point.
Terri leans against Bart a lets out a long sigh, her breath clouding in front of her. "Looking after Maggie is better than dealing with Sherri at home."
"Is she really that horrible?" Bart asks, pulling her closer.
"You have no idea. We once got into a fight and she ripped all my Buffy the Vampire Slayer posters off the wall."
Bart stifles a laugh. "No offense, Terri, but that show totally sucks."
She punches him in the arm, hard enough that she knows it'll sting. Then he asks if she's going to kiss it to make it all better. She does.
As she becomes a fixture at the Simpson house, Terri has to deal with the repercussions of barely spending any time with her own family anymore. Her father still doesn't like the idea of her dating Bart, but Terri refuses to budge and he has never said no to either of his daughters before. Her mom just shrugs and tells her to keep up her grades, keep out of trouble, that's all that she's asking for.
"Honestly, you and your sister are turning me gray." She comments one night as she waits for Terri to come home from Bart's house.
"Well, I'm home now so you can calm down." Terri replies, taking her coat off.
Her mother shakes her head. "Sherri's not home yet either. I'm guessing the exhibition went late."
Terri doesn't bother asking what her mother is talking about. It isn't until a couple days later, when she's hanging out at Bart's house (she's in his backyard watching him put an old car together) that Lisa strolls by and asks about Sherri.
"How would I know?" Terri scoffs. Lisa, for all her well-meaning intelligence, still irks her.
Lisa frowns. "Sherri's work is getting a lot of attention, you know."
"Her photography." Lisa elaborates. "And her paintings are starting to get noticed too. She might be famous one day."
"Whatever." Terri mutters. Sherri painting? Her pictures displayed at galleries downtown? She could have at least mentioned something to me.
"Beat it, Lise." Bart says from underneath the car hood. "If Terri doesn't want to talk about her evil twin, she doesn't have to."
After Lisa leaves, Terri gives him a kiss. "Thanks for backing me up, you're a sweetheart."
"No problemo, babe." He's trying to be all casual and cool but when he looks at her, she sees that goofy look in his eyes that makes Terri feel all fluttery inside, like she's the only girl he's ever really looked at before.
Terri's parents aren't the only ones who don't take well to the fact that she's dating Bart. A lot of her friends don't understand what she sees in him, assume she has no standards.
"There are so many hotter guys, Terri!"
"Girl, he's going nowhere!"
"He's just going to drag you down, you know."
Terri doesn't delude herself into thinking he's The One or anything stupid like that. But Bart is a decent boyfriend, in his own way. Sure, she can't really have a conversation about Middle Eastern politics or the human genome with him. He's malicious towards authority figures, lazy, dim-witted and forgetful. But when they're together, he's attentive and giving, treating her like the fabulous girl that she is.
She just wishes he spent more time with her, being normal, instead of cruising through town in that piece of crap car, hollering out the window as Milhouse whoops it up like a dumb-ass in the passenger seat.
Looking for fun. Looking for trouble. She remembers what her parents said about Bart and wonders about their future together and where it will lead them.
There's no denying that the bad boy thing is a turn-on. It goes against all her common sense but Terri can't help herself. In fact, for Valentine's Day she and Bart break into their old middle school in the dead of the night and trash a couple classrooms before they hear the cop cars outside. Terror and excitement blazes through her veins as they run through backyards and alleys. They hide out at Bart's house, in Bart's bedroom, and before Terri knows it she's kissing him like they've never kissed before. Her heart is hammering wildly, his hands are all over her and dammit why the hell are his jeans so difficult to get off?
He nuzzles against her like a cat when it's all said and done. Terri stares at the ceiling and thinks about the rush of rebellion, and wonders if that rush is the same thing Sherri has been looking for.
One afternoon, Terri comes back from Bart's house and finds her mother sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in her hands and a wistful look on her face.
"Did something happen, mom?"
"Oh no, nothing's wrong, honey. I just can't believe Sherri's going to be gone in a few months." Her mom says thoughtfully, pushing her glasses up her nose. "Her art teacher says it'll be a great experience for her, to get out in the world and be inspired by new people and situations."
Terri frowns, stopping in her tracks entirely. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, right. She didn't tell you." Her mother says, unsurprised. "Sherri is going on exchange to Berlin for school next year. She's leaving as soon as this semester is over."
Terri is cleaning up her room a few months later when Sherri stands in the doorway, gripping her suitcase tightly with one hand and her camera with the other. They look at each other silently and Terri takes time to imprint the scene in her head. The scene of the crime, the scene of the final blow, after which nothing will ever be the same again. No words are needed. They both already know what they've gotten themselves into.
There's a hard look in Terri's eyes as she turns her back on her sister and stares out the window instead. Footsteps, the slamming of a door... and she's gone.
It's strange, once Sherri's gone. Terri spent all of her waking energy avoiding her sister, doing her best to never interact with her. They barely saw each other to begin with. But once she's gone, Terri is acutely aware of something missing, a certain stillness in the house. The stillness is sad, like mourning in front of a tombstone. But Sherri's not dead, just an ocean away.
Her father notices something off, peers at her as she stands in the bathroom brushing her teeth. "You look lost, princess. That Simpson boy got you down?"
"No, daddy." Terri replies, spitting in the sink.
A pause. "I know you won't admit it, but it's okay to miss her. She's family."
Terri sighs and feels tired, in more ways than one. Her heart is heavy when she pulls the covers up to her chin and wonders what summer in Germany is like.
Lisa is the one that talks her into taking a PSAT prep course over their summer holidays. Terri was thinking of training for the national karate championships, but for some reason her heart isn't in it. She knows that martial arts are about discipline and concentration, but honestly? She's just sick of fighting, of being on the defensive.
The course is only two weeks long but it seems to drag on forever to Terri. The air conditioning breaks down right in the middle of a heat wave and she finds herself sweaty, uncomfortable, and (worst of all) bored. Eventually, she and Lisa are passing notes all class long, quizzing each other on all countries and capitals of South America. Then they move on to Africa. Then to the Middle East.
Terri is surprised to find herself ignoring Bart one evening to talk to Lisa about possibly doing their own damn prep course.
Bart is understandably miffed, but Terri promises to make it up to him later. Her sly wink does the trick and he goes off to find Milhouse instead, leaving her with a kiss.
Her and Lisa take the bus to Springfield University every morning because it's the only place with a good enough library. They sit among the stacks, passing books back and forth and creating questions to quiz each other with. On their breaks, they sit in the shade of a large oak tree in front of the student center, eating homemade sandwiches and talking about what they've learned. Lisa is still way ahead of Terri, as far as intelligence goes, but for some reason it doesn't bother Terri as much as it used to. So what if she's a brilliant genius who's younger than her? There's no point in being frustrated with something she can't change about someone else.
One day, they're talking about child psychology and Lisa brings up the human need to be seen as independent and separate when it comes to identity. Something clicks in Terri's head, about why she's been so angry with Sherri for so long. She's quiet for a couple days after, remembering all the fights and bitter words exchanged. Bart notices her reticence that weekend, an uncomfortable look in his eyes.
"You haven't been around lately." Bart says, not accusingly but with a sense of resignation. "Are you trying to break up with me?"
Terri doesn't want to say yes, but she doesn't want to say no either, so she shrugs. It feels like her life is slowly shifting towards a different direction lately, quietly and without dramatics.
Bart stuffs his hands into his pockets. "Maybe we should just, you know, make a clean break before things get ugly."
"Maybe." Terri echoes, examining Bart as he does his best to look everywhere but at her.
Her parents worry about her for a while, after she drops most of her extra-curricular activities. But Terri repeats to them over and over again that she's just fine, she just wants to spend more time with the friends she'd been ignoring since she started dating Bart. That puts a relieved look on her dad's face, at least.
It's after an amazing back-to-school shopping expedition with Allison that she comes home and sees Sherri's suitcase in the hallway. Terri's mother tells her that Sherri actually has a bit of a stomach bug right now, so their father had taken her to Dr. Hibbert for a check-up.
When Terri gets to her room, she sees it. Sitting on her dresser is a plain envelope, a little yellowed and a little beaten up, bearing Sherri's slightly blocky script. To Terri. Inside is a letter that spills out Sherri's emotions. She talks about how beautiful Europe was, how she visited the Holocaust memorials, all the pain and suffering of the past, families split apart, and how it cast their relationship into stark perspective.
I'm sorry, Terri. I'm sorry for all the horrible things I said and did to you. I don't expect you to forgive me but I want you to understand. I've always had a curiosity for trying new things and I thought you'd accept that. But it felt like you rejected my desire to change. It felt like you didn't love me unconditionally like a twin sister should. So I decided I didn't love you either. But I do, as much as we keep fighting, and now I'm just weighed down by years of regret...
Terri's throat is tight as she reads her sister's words, tears prickling at the edge of her vision. Because Sherri's broken heart is the flip side of her own.
She hears the front door open and close, the sound of her parents speaking. There's a shuffling noise behind her and Terri doesn't need to turn around to know who it is. So she begins to speak, her voice watery and wavering.
"When you changed, it was like you were rejecting your old identity. But we were, like, the same person... so it felt like you were rejecting ime/i."
Sherri's sidles up to Terri and leans her head on her sister's shoulder. "I'm sorry I assumed the worst of you."
"I'm sorry I never appreciated you." Terri sniffles and hugs Sherri. And even though she knows that everything is not quite forgiven yet (they have so much healing to do), Terri finds herself comforted by the fact that such an important a piece of her world has returned to her. They started off as one and learned to live as two. Maybe now, they can be both.
- - - end - - -